York Peace Festival – Rowntree Park, 04/09/11

The last day of the school holidays and, contrary to the forecast I had seen, the sun was shining this morning. After having my first suggestion for an activity vetoed (due to the the possibility of having to walk through a field of cows) I tentatively put forward the fact that there was live music on in Rowntree Park this afternoon. Surprisingly, the family thought it was a good idea to head down.

In fact, it was the York Peace Festival which, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, provides a mixture of music, activities, and fund raising through the afternoon and early evening, spreading itself along the length of the ornamental lake. The music itself was divided across two main stages – the Arena and the One World Stage (with enough distance between them that you couldn’t hear the acts on one while standing at the other) and a smaller Backyard Cabaret Area, which provided some more “off-the-wall” acts than those of the main stages.

There were specific acts I was hoping to see but we started by having a walk around and Elizabeth was soon entranced by Scrap Value, in the Backyard Cabaret. As the names suggests, they produced percussion music, using “scrap” – pieces of pipe, empty water cooler bottles and what looked like table tennis bats, amongst other things. They were, it has to be said, quite entertaining, producing some unusual noise from everyday objects, but we didn’t have time to watch for long as one of the bands I wanted to see was about to start on the Arena stage.

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I’ve seen Falling Spikes three times now and their brand of psychedelic shoe-gazing seems to get better every time. Strangely, the sound for their set today was the best I’ve heard it and the music came across very well, despite the outdoor setting. I can only remember one song played (I wasn’t taking notes) and that was Shotgun. The band obviously had friends/fans in the audience as a few people got up to dance, staying towards the rear of the concreted area, despite being urged forward by frontman Alexander Peck. It being a festival, it was almost inevitable that the rain would come. And it did, a fine drizzle starting halfway through the set, forcing umbrellas and, in one case, a parasol up and waterproofs on but failing to dampen the spirits of those watching. Despite not being an upbeat band, the Spikes’ set got a warm reception from the increasingly damp crowd.

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The next band on were We Could Be Astronauts, were formed last year from the remnants of Hijak Oscar and Idle Jack & The Big Sleep. I hadn’t seen them before today but had heard some positive things about them and, I hav eto say, they were a bit of a revelation. With flamboyant and energetic frontman Robert Loxley Hughes almost seeming to channel Robert Plant (in looks, if not in vocals) they rather appropriately play in a style reminiscent of seventies rock, without making it sound cheesy. Highlight of their set for me was the emotional and near-epic Lost At Sea. There’s a CD in the offing and, if that is one of the tracks on it, there’s a good chance that I’ll be adding it to my collection. It’s perhaps testament to their performance that the crowd, which had diminished between acts at least partly due to the increasingly heavy rain, had swelled considerably by the time the set was done. Debbie, who (let’s face it) isn’t the biggest music fan around, declared them her favourite act of the two so far because Hughes seemed to “have more about him than the other guy”. I think it’s apparent that she doesn’t really appreciate the more introspective aspects of the likes of Falling Spikes. On the basis of this performance, though, I will be trying to see these guys again.

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Next it was over to the One World Stage, so Elizabeth could finally get to see one of her favourite acts perform live. No, Justin Bieber hadn’t made a surprise appearance at a small local festival (a la Elton John in The Vicar Of Dibley…) Instead it was Boss Caine, whose songs she has liked since the first time I played his (their?) album The Ship That Sailed. In a short (but very sweet) set we were treated to A Kind Of Loving, Dead Man’s Suit, Ghosts And Drunks and (Everybody Loves You More When You’re) Down On Your Knees. Again the sound was handled very well. It may have been that we were standing (at Elizabeth’s behest) closer to the stage than anybody else, but the vocals and guitar both came across as very clear. Elizabeth declared this as her favourite act of the afternoon and was only slightly disappointed that none of the songs came from the album and, therefore, that she didn’t know any of them. She did have an opportunity to say hello to GT himself earlier in the afternoon but actually went a bit shy (either that or she was starstruck…)

We didn’t really listen to any other acts as closely, although you could hear them as you were wandering around the park. The only other one I feel I could comment on were, according to the programme (and assuming the running order was correct), Atlantika. The programme notes stated “Funky deep house band with uplifting vocals, sampled dance beats and live drums”, which didn’t make them sound that appealing to be honest. However, if it was them that preceded Boss Caine, they actually sounded pretty good and, despite what the quote leads you to believe, also included live guitars and, as far as I could hear, very little sampling.

IMG_0193Other, non-musical, highlights of the afternoon included Elizabeth trying to boil a kettle using just pedal-power (apparently it took three hours of combined effort last year); me continuing to prove that coconut shies aren’t as hard as they look (I’ve had three goes in my entire life and knocked a coconut off twice – hence I’m now retiring…); Local celebrity-spotting – as well as members of bands who were performing we saw Bryan and Livvy from Mostly Autumn and Heidi from Stolen Earth; the largest and stickiest (it must have been the organic sugar) candy floss you will ever lay eyes on; and bumping into Rachael from Coffee On Demand, thereby ensuring we got decent cups of coffee throughout the afternoon. In fact there was almost too much to do – we were primarily there for the music and didn’t look at much else but could have watched dancing, puppet theatre and many other things if we had the time. It may have been damp, but it was certainly enjoyable. Elizabeth got her first taste of “proper” live music and seemed to appreciate, as well as enjoy, it.

And wouldn’t you know it, just as we left the sun came out.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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